Nature Girl

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1282

Carl Hiaasen introduces a host of odd characters in Nature Girl while following his well-established humorously satirical style of writing about the destruction of nature in his native Florida and condemning the contributing roles of builders, developers, politicians, and uncaring individuals. His concern about nature started during his childhood and led to his becoming an investigative reporter. His riotously funny fictional characters border on the absurd while being not too far off the mark as caricatures of real people with attributes such as bipolar disorder, greed, lust, and stupidity. His adult novels have a predilection toward strong-willed, sexy, wacky women paired with men who are losers, although there is always a hero-type male thrown into the mix.

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Nature Girl met with general enthusiasm from Hiaasen’s fans but a bit of gentle criticism from professional reviewers. Janet Maslin of The New York Times, in a review for the International Herald Tribune, wrote, “The arrival of each of his new novels makes the world a slightly happier place” but in Nature Girl,once he has stocked the book’s swampy setting with amusing oddballs, something funny happens: nothing. Though he is never short of articulate and crisp dialogue, and though his deft word choices are part of the pleasure of reading him, Hiaasen sounds slightly mechanical this time. This book doesn’t fall flat, but neither does it really take flight.

Carolyn See, in The Washington Post Book World, indicated that Nature Girl did not meet the top-notch quality of the author’s Native Tongue (1991) but tempered the criticism by adding, “an ordinary, almost automatic Carl Hiaasen novel is about 10,000 times better than no Hiaasen novel at all.” Carolyn Juris, in The Washington Post column “Media Mix: A Quick Take on New Releases,” gave the book a B- while declaring, “the meandering plot lacks momentum or urgency.” David Lazarus, in contrast, in his San Francisco Chronicle review, called Nature Girl one of Hiaasen’s “better efforts.” Bill Ott, writing in Booklist, similarly liked the book “because Hiaasen is still as funny as any thriller writer alive.”

Honey Santana, the nature girl of the title, is a divorced mother of a twelve-year-old boy, Fry, who lives with her in a mobile home in Everglades City, Florida. She reaches her breaking point one night when Boyd Shreave of Relentless, Inc., a telemarketing firm based in Texas, calls at dinnertime to offer her a deal on real estate in north-central Florida. She is tired of telemarketers interrupting her meals and tired of the rudeness of people in general. She has just been fired for assaulting her lecherous boss and has secretly not been taking her medication for several weeks.

Honey had been diagnosed as bipolar and has been off her medicine long enough for her to begin hearing music playing in her head, always two disparate tunes competing for her attention. Fry, a conscientious child, lets his father know that Mom may be heading for trouble. Fry’s father, Perry Skinner, a small town mayor who once did jail time for drug running, decided years ago that he could not deal with Honey’s craziness and filed for divorce just prior to her doing the same. Not able to forgive him for filing the divorce papers first, making her seem the one at fault, Honey often shows her bitterness by referring to him as Fry’s ex-father rather than as her ex>husband.

Honey decides to turn the tables on telemarketer Shreave and teach him some manners. She convinces her brother in upstate New York to use his reverse phone book to find the name of the company associated with the number that appeared on her phone. Honey then poses as a telemarketer and calls Shreave, offering him a trip for two to Florida and free accommodations if he agrees to listen to a real estate sales pitch when he and his companion arrive. Shreave recognizes the sales tactic, but his affair with Eugenie Fonda, the woman working in the telemarketing cubicle next to his, has taken a turn for the worse and he wants to impress her by taking her on a trip to Florida. Consequently, he accepts the deal that Honey offers.

Honey begs her former husband for plane tickets for two people whom she claims are old friends coming to visit. To have room for her guests, she also asks Perry to let Fry live with him for a couple of weeks. Her plan is to take Boyd and Eugenie on an eco-tour of the Everglades and dump them there to fend for themselves. Perry and Fry suspect that Honey is up to something, but they are clueless as to the extent to which Honey will go.

Honey was already showing signs of mental health problems at the time she received Shreave’s telemarketing call. Her boss, Louis Piejack, had put his hand on her breast at work, to which she retaliated by grabbing a wooden crab mallet and using it to slam him in his testicles. A short time later, after Honey tells her ex-husband the reason she was fired, two hoodlums accost Piejack and lock his hand into a stone crab trap, where the jumbo crabs proceed to pinch off three of his fingers. Hiaasen, in his classically ludicrous way, has the electricity go off during the operation to reattach the fingers, and in the resulting disorder, the surgeon reattaches them in the wrong locations on Piejack’s hand.

While the reader is following Honey and her antics, Hiaasen details the actions of a character named Sammy Tigertail. Sammy is a half-blood Seminole who spent the first fourteen and a half years of his life as Chad McQueen and is living with his father and, from age four onward, his stepmother in perfectly ordinary circumstances in Broward County, Florida. However, his father dies suddenly when Chad is fourteen, and his stepmother hustles him back into the hands of his natural mother on the reservation. Chad decides he needs a name appropriate to his new surroundings and chooses to call himself Sammy Tigertail after he learns he is the great-great-great-grandson of the Seminole’s famous warrior “Tiger Tail,” Thlocklo Tustenuggee.

Sammy Tigertail is working an airboat tour of the Everglades when the story opens. It is his first day on the job and he is ferrying around customer Jeter Wilson. Wilson, drunk and standing up in the moving airboat, suffers a snake flying into his open mouth and dies of a heart attack from the shock. Sammy phones his uncle Tommy Tigertail and asks what to do. Misinterpreting his uncle’s advice to get the body off the reservation, he engineers a sinking of Wilson’s body in the Lostmans River aboard a borrowed crab boat held down with anchors. Sammy then heads into the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, steals a kayak from some campers, takes a college student, Gillian St. Croix, hostage (at her request), and hides on Dismal Key, a place highly deserving of its name.

Dismal Keya place that early fishermen used as a stomping ground and that the occasional hermit has inhabitedwill soon be crowded with Sammy and Gillian, in hiding; Boyd and Eugenie, abandoned there; Dealey, a private investigator hired by Boyd Shreave’s wife Lily to make a video of her errant husband having sex with his mistress; Louis Piejack, stalking Honey; and Perry Skinner and Fry trying to find and rescue Honey.

Nature Girl fits seamlessly into Hiaasen’s writing history, delighting fans, raising a little disparagement from professional critics, and endlessly trying to make the reader see that people need to change how they live in order to save the environment.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 35

Booklist 103, no. 7 (December 1, 2006): 5.

Entertainment Weekly, no. 907 (November 17, 2006): 131.

Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 18 (September 15, 2006): 924.

The New York Times 156 (November 16, 2006): E1-E8.

The New York Times Book Review 156 (December 3, 2006): 10.

Publishers Weekly 253, no. 37 (September 18, 2006) 32.

San Francisco Chronicle, November 5, 2006, p. M2.

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